Duke remembers dead of RAF Charterhall

Royal occasion as Hillary memorial is unveiled Picture by Michael Reilly

HRH THE Duke of Kent visited Berwickshire on Tuesday to take part in a ceremony to remember those who died at RAF Charterhall during World War Two.

Although the chief reason for his visit was to officially unveil the Richard Hillary Memorial at Charterhall, the Duke was taken first to Greenlaw to tour the Border Embroideries factory.

The company had been founded twelve years ago with help from the Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust but it was the first time a royal visitor had been able to see first-hand what a success story it had become.

Owners Billy and Shirley-Ann Smillie showed the Duke around the factory floor where he talked to some of the staff and watched the embroidery machines at work.

Billy, who now sits on the PYSBT panel, is very grateful for the start that the Trust provided him and now advises other young entrepreneurs. But despite his involvement in the Trust, he had never actually met a member of the royal family and was delighted the Duke had taken the time to visit the factory.

As he left the premises on Duns Road industrial estate, the Duke was presented with flowers by Greenlaw resident Jane Chisholm, a collector of royal memorabilia, who was extremely pleased to welcome such a distinguished visitor to the town.

The Duke's party, escorted by Lord Lieutenant Major Alexander Trotter, then made their way to the Cleughhead crossroads, the site of the former entrance to RAF Charterhall, for the ceremony at 12 noon. He was met by RAF cadets from the 1007 Duns Squadron and a crowd of spectators and invited guests.

Parish minister Alan Cartwright welcomed the gathering and said a prayer of remembrance in honour of the officers, NCOs and airmen who lost their lives while serving at Charterhall.

The new memorial, consisting of a granite slab in front of a drystone arched wall, pays tribute to two of the servicemen in particular; fighter pilot Richard Hillary and Flight Lieutenant Wilfrid Fison. They were killed when their Blenheim V crashed at Crunklaw during a night exercise on January 8, 1943. The 9,000 cost of the monument was largely funded by old boys of Trinity College, Oxford, where Hillary had studied and been a vital member of the college s victorious rowing team before the war.

Fison s son Rev. Geoffrey Fison, who had been only eight years old at the time of his father s death, dedicated the memorial. He told how, when he was sorting through his mother s belongings after her death, he had found a scrap of paper on which his father had written a quotation. It read: "All that is needed for evil to flourish is that the good men should do nothing."

He said: "Both Richard Hillary and my father chose freely to do what they did. They were both volunteers, motivated by a sense of duty and patriotism which is somewhat alien in this more cynical and self centred age. I feel honoured to dedicate and bless this memorial."

After a minute's silence, a piper played while representatives of Hillary's 603 Squadron and Trinity College joined family members in laying wreaths at the foot of the memorial. Also laying wreaths were Hillary's authorised biographer David Ross and Denise Patterson to whom Hillary dedicated his book 'The Last Enemy' which was a wartime bestseller. A flyover by two Grub 115 Tutor planes from the Oxford University Air Squadron marked the end of the ceremony.

The Duke was taken to nearby Fogo Kirk where he visited the Imperial War Grave Commission graves of other Charterhall airmen before moving on to the former school to meet some of the people involved in planning the memorial.